Rome, the capital city of Italy and Lazio is a fascinating place to visit, with over two and a half thousand years of history to explore. It was once the largest city in the world and the centre of Western civilisation. Today, the stunning capital is Italy's largest and most populous city, with more than 2.7 million residents and a metropolitan area of almost 4 million inhabitants. Rome is a modern, cosmopolitan city, and the third most-visited tourist destination in the European Union.
There is so much to unravel when visiting Rome that I would allow approximately four days to enable you to conquer the city as fully as possible. A long weekend break would be perfect. The city is not particularly big and the transport is superb, making travelling around hastle free, however, you want to allow time to see each sight properly.
The Metro system works very much like the London underground and language barriers should not stop you from understanding how things work. You can buy Metro tickets either from the station itself or from most small street sales stands and they usually stay valid for an hour and a half at a time once activated. There are regular buses for you to hop on to, including many sight-seeing tour buses, allowing you to get off at certain points of interest and rejoin whenever you chose. If you are feeling energetic, try walking around as much as you can and get lost down small side streets, or maybe accidentally on purpose find yourself wondering into the likes of Gucci, Prada, Givenchy or Dolce and Gabbana.
Having recently returned from Rome, here are some of the places I recommend and found fascinating due to their rich history.
The Colosseum certainly lives up to it's hype and is definitely a sight not to be missed. The ruin itself is impressive to the eye, however, if you know the history behind the structure, it will send your imagination into over drive.
The Colosseum was originally a Flavian amphitheatre and was the largest one ever to be built in the Roman Empire. It's construction started between 70 and 72 AD under the Emperor Vaspasian and was completed in 80AD under Titus, with further modifications being made during Domititan's reign (81-96). The amphitheatre was once capable of seating a staggering 50,000 spectators, indicating just how popular a visit to the arena was.
The structure was used for spectacular events such as the infamous gladiatorial contests and many public spectacles. These public spectacles included sea battles- there is evidence that a major hydraulic system once existed and according to ancient accounts, it was possible to flood the arena rapidly, presumably via a connection to a nearby aqueduct. There were also animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles and dramas based on classical mythology. If you wanted to be entertained, the Colosseum was the place to go.
It remained in use for nearly 500 years, with the last recorded games being held in the 6th century. The building stopped being used for entertainment in the early Medieval era. Instead, it was re-used for housing purposes, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry and a Christian shrine.
It has been estimated that 500,000 people and over 1,000,000 wild animals died in the Colosseum games. Walking around the ruin that has been damaged through several earthquakes and by stone robbers, it is easy to just over look the history of the tourist ridden place. However, if you can think back to Ancient times and imagine the arena packed with excited, chanting spectators about to see a momentous gladiator battle, where men would fight to their deaths, the Colosseum comes to life once more. Imagine animals such as elephants and lions being paraded before an audience. You are even able to see where the gladiators and animals were stored in cages underground before a pulley system allowed them to appear on stage. It looks like a maze. A real must see.
The next sight to see when in Rome is very easy to get to from the Colosseum. The Roman Forum is just a ten minute walk away and is the central area around which the Ancient Roman civilization developed. Citizens referred to the location as the "Forum Magnum" or just the "Forum".
The oldest and most important structures of the ancient city are located in the forum, including its ancient former royal residency the Regia and the surrounding complex of the Vestal virgins. The Old Republic had its formal Comitium there where the senate, as well as Republican government began. The forum served as a city square and central hub where the people of Rome gathered for justice, and faith. The forum was also the economic hub of the city and considered to be the center of the Republic and Empire.
The area of the forum was originally a grassy wetland. It was drained in the 7th century BCE by building the Cloaca Maxima, a large covered sewer system that drained into the Tiber River, as more people began to settle between the two hills.
Walking around the old ruins can take as long as you want it to and makes for a very interesting photo opportunity. The ruins transport you back in time and once again it is easy to get lost in history, imagining what it would have been like to have been an Emperor, Empress or simply a citizen in Ancient times. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
A sight which should definitely not be missed, is that of the Trevi Fountain. It's name originates due to the fact the fountain is situated at the junction of three roads or "tre vie" and it is located on the rione of Trevi. It is arguably the most beautiful fountain in the whole of Rome and is certainly the largest and most ambitious of the Baroque fountains in the city. It measures 25.9 metres (85 feet) high and 19.8 metres (65 feet) wide.
The fountain features Neptune, God of the sea. He is riding a chariot in the shape of a shell, pulled by two sea horses. Each sea horse is guided by a Triton. One of the horses is calm and obedient, the other one restive. They symbolize the fluctuating moods of the sea. On the left hand side of Neptune is a statue representing Abundance, the statue on the right represents Salubrity. Above the sculptures are bas-reliefs, one of them shows, Agrippa the girl after whom the aqueduct was named.
It is also said that the scene on the fountain's facade originates from when in 19BC, supposedly with the help of a virgin, Roman technicians located a source of pure water some 13km (8 miles) from the city. The eventual indirect route of the aqueduct made its length some 22 km (14 miles). This Aqua Virgo led the water into the Baths of Agrippa. It served Rome for more than four hundred years until Goth besiegers in 537/38 broke the aqueducts. Medieval Romans were reduced to drawing water from polluted wells and the Tiber River, which was also used as a sewer.
The Roman custom of building a handsome fountain at the endpoint of an aqueduct that brought water to Rome was revived in the fifteenth century, with the Renaissance. In 1453, Pope Nicholas V finished mending the Acqua Vergine aqueduct (the revivified Aqua Virgo) and built a simple basin, designed by the humanist architect Leon Battista Alberti, in order to celebrate the water's arrival. In 1629 Pope Urban VIII, finding the earlier fountain insufficiently dramatic set the ball rolling for a redesign. Salvi died in 1751, with his work half-finished, The Trevi Fountain was finished in 1762 by Giuseppe Pannini, who substituted the present bland allegories for planned sculptures of Agrippa and "Trivia", the Roman virgin.
The Trevi fountain is indeed at the ending part of the Aqua Virgo, an aqueduct constructed in 19 BC. It brings water all the way from the Salone Springs (approx 20km from Rome) and supplies the fountains in the historic center of Rome with water, continuing the tradition.
The water at the bottom of the fountain represents the sea. Legend has it you will return to Rome if you throw a coin into the water. You should toss it over your shoulder with your back to the fountain.
Rome is full of treasures and these sights are only a small selection of what the capital city has to offer.